Constitutions serve two general purposes. First, they establish the basic structure of government, specifying where power lies and what powers the government possesses. Second, constitutions limit government powers by enshrining civil liberties that the government cannot violate. The Texas Constitution accomplishes both of these purposes, but was also designed to make government policymaking a difficult task.
At more than 93,000 words and counting, the Texas Constitution lacks elegance and economy. It reflects the state’s individualistic political culture and a mistrust of government, which have translated into weak political institutions across the board. Consistent with its original intent of ensuring state government would never be oppressive, the Texas Constitution fragments and limits government power.
Critics of the Texas Constitution claim it is too long, too complicated, poorly organized and, most importantly, handicaps the state government from effectively addressing the challenges of an economically complex, modern society. Such critics believe constitutional reform is desperately needed to provide a more efficient political system. Yet constitutional reform, attempted on several occasions in the state legislature, has consistently failed. Whatever its flaws, it is clear the Texas Constitution accurately reflects the prevailing political culture of the state, a culture that is hostile to government and suspicious of centralized power. The document embodies popular sovereignty, the political theory that government is created by and subject to the will of the people.
Virtual Roundtable 1
The Texas Constitution today is still similar to the original 1876 document, despite more than 400 amendments. Its original philosophy reflected the political culture and values of those who created it. Does the Texas Constitution still reflect the origins of Texas political culture?
Sonia R. Garcia, Associate Professor of Political Science, St. Mary’s University
Jim Hightower, Populist & Political Commentator, Texas Agricultural Commissioner (1982-1991)
Elise Hu, Journalist & Political Reporter, Austin, TX
Hon. Bill Meier, Former State Senator (1973-1983), Fort Worth, TX
Virtual Roundtable 2
About half of the states in the U.S. provide citizens with the power of initiative and referendum – the ability to create new laws by overturning legislative acts by popular vote. While the Texas Constitution does not grant its citizens either of these powers at the state level, both are allowed in home-rule cities. Should Texans be granted the right to use the initiative and referendum processes at the state level?
David F. Prindle, Professor of Government, University of Texas at Austin
Bob Ray Sanders, Associate Editor/Senior Columnist, Ft. Worth Star-Telegram
Jim Riddlesperger, Professor of Political Science, Texas Christian University